With the gulf coast of Alaska warm under the sun of an unusually early spring, the Midwestern state that wanted to rebrand itself as North is bracing for just what that name suggests.
Warnings of blizzards, winter storms and winter weather were posted for most of Minnesota on Monday.
“A major, mid-April winter storm is expected starting Wednesday….Snowfall rates of one to two inches per hour will be possible at times….Winds will increase Wednesday night with gusts of 45 to 55 mph by Thursday. This will produce areas of blowing snow over much of central and southern Minnesota into western Wisconsin, including potential blizzard conditions across west-central Minnesota. Travel could become nearly impossible in this area by Thursday.”
“My blood pressure is just now receding after the 15.7 inches of snow that plastered the MSP metro April 13-15, 2018. ‘A fluke, an cosmic aberration – at least THAT won’t happen again anytime soon!’ I may or may not have been quoted as saying. ‘The odds are slim to nil!’ Excuse me while I walk that one back.”
But, hey, Minnesota asked for this.
“The Land of 10,000 Lakes” was all over “North” when the Superbowl visited the dome in the Twin Cities last year. The lead-in headlines prior to the Superbowl?
At the time, Minnesota’s attempt to steal Alaska’s long claim to fame as “Seward’s Icebox” just seemed silly. Any comparison of true north land standards quickly showed which state is the north.
- Minnesota, 36 to 70 inches.
- Alaska, 75.5 inches in Anchorage to 45 feet if Thompson Pass. Forty-five feet is enough to bury the average Minnesota home.
- Minnesota, a record 60-degrees-below zero in Tower. Impressive.
- Alaska, what Interior city hasn’t hit a measly minus-60. At least 23 communities have gone to 70 below or colder. The record? 80 below at the Prospect Creek Camp where it felt like a heat wave when the temperature climbed to minus-60.
- Minnesota, none. Global warming wiped them all out 10,000 years ago.
- Alaska, too many to count, but the best guess is about 100,000. And while many are shrinking, they’ll be around for a long, long time yet.
- Minnesota, round and round at the “Alex Winter Spectacular.”
- Alaskans, 2,000 miles across vast wilderness from Big Lake to Nome and then back to Fairbanks in the Iron Dog, the world’s longest, toughest snowmachine race. (Alaska also calls the crotch-rockets of winter what they are – machines. A mobile is something you hang above a baby’s crib.)
- Minnesota, sometimes visible above the northern horizon.
- Alaska, regularly arching across the sky from north to south and east to west. Sometimes they pack so much energy you can hear them. Nobody has ever reporting hearing the aurora in Minnesota.
- Minnesota, Garrison Keillor and Lake Wobegon.
- Alaska,Jack London and Tales of the North. The book would need to be renamed if the Midwest became the North. London never wrote diddly about Minnesota.
- Minnesota, a 2,301-foot, tree-covered, hill called “Eagle Mountain.”
- Alaska, 20,310 foot, glacier-covered, Mount Denali, the tallest mountain on the continent. It rises so high that the summer tourists visiting the north from Minnesota complain they can’t see the top because it’s lost in the clouds.
- Minnesota, none.
- Alaska, about 30,000.
But now? Could it be back to the future?
Climate zone shifts
Could this mark the planet’s return to those woolly mammoth days? Probably not. Most climatologists are in agreement the planet is warming, even if Minnesota is temporarily cooling, and that these strange phenomenon are what one might expect as climate changes.
This shift, specifically, can be blamed on perturbations in the Arctic oscillation and polar vortex that delivered the Cook Inlet region of Alaska an April-like March and cool weather for the U.S East Coast.
Though trends over the last several years favored “an aggressive advance of the spring season and above normal temperatures, there was no sign of a warm start to spring for the Eastern U.S. and Europe,” MIT climatologist Judah Cohen writes at AER.com. “This was related to high latitude blocking, especially across Greenland and a negative Arctic oscillation (A0)/ North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). A strongly negative AO/NAO has been elusive for many of the recent winters, the season a strong negative AO/NAO is most common. I don’t have a good reason for the recent scarcity of a strongly negative AO/NAO, and I only have a speculative reason for why it is finally occurring in April 2019.”
The speculation involves warm air moving north toward a colder Arctic and then rising into the stratosphere and troposphere which, in turn, causes a ridge in the atmosphere over Alaska and along the West Coast of North America. The ridge directs eastward moving air from the tropics toward Alaska to warm things up.
Another ridge over Greenland blocks the eastward movement of polar weather. It then pushed down into the Midwest and East with the predictable results: snow and cold.
The Arctic picture is somewhat confusing, however, and has climatologists doing a little head scratching. Polar ice rebounded this year and while still low rose to seventh in the 40-year satellite record. But Alaska’s Bering Sea was strangely lacking in ice and temperatures on Alaska’s Arctic coast were hitting recording-breaking highs.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota – where the corn planting season for farmers has been known to start as early as April 20 – it’s snowing. A similar weather pattern last year significantly disrupted normal planting schedules, according to the Minnesota Corner Growers Association.
“All these headaches started with the mid-April blizzard that dumped a foot of snow, or more, across southern Minnesota,” the association’s website reported. “This was followed by weeks of cool weather, which meant the snow was slow to leave.”
And now it’s looking like deja vu all over again.